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The Purge Almost Didn't Get Made Because Script Was Considered 'Too Anti-American'
"I had this little, strange, dark indictment of American gun culture."
In a time when the United States finds itself rocked by horrific acts of gun violence on a near-weekly basis, The Purge (now streaming on Peacock) feels more relevant (and less like heightened fiction) than ever before.
Ironically, James DeMonaco's idea for a dystopian ritual of carnage and lawlessness was rejected about "40-50" times in Hollywood for being "too anti-American," the filmmaker revealed during an interview with Variety celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the series.
"I had this little, strange, dark indictment of American gun culture,” he explained. "I hate guns. To me, the scariest thing in the world would be a night where everyone was armed and it was legal to use these firearms. To me, there was nothing scarier than that notion."
He later continued: "I was hoping to put a mirror up to our own society and our relationship with violence and guns. Also the political climate I saw rising over a decade ago, when I wrote the piece, has gotten even more pronounced in the eight years since Trump. This discord that’s rising in the body politic… that’s gotten worse and worse, and we just kept reflecting that.”
After all the aforementioned rejection, DeMonaco ended up partnering with Blumhouse and Universal Pictures, both which "saw something bigger in the conceit." They funded the project for a meager $2 million, a small investment that paid off big-time. The Ethan Hawke-led thriller brought in $34 million opening weekend and ultimately reached a lifetime gross of almost $90 million.
"Opening weekend, I think we just thought it would be this tiny little thing," DeMonaco recalled. "It was a complete shock, it’s still a shock to this day." A sequel, The Purge: Anarchy, arrived two years later, and traded the claustrophobic, suburban prison of the original for a broader look at an America plunged into utter depravity.
“I wanted to be out and about,” said DeMonaco, who was given a $9 million budget to play with the second time around. “I knew in that we needed to get out of the house. We needed to open it up, so if we got a chance to make a sequel, I always wanted people to cross the city. It could be kind of like The Warriors going back to Coney Island, which was such an influence on me as a kid.”
A decade later, The Purge brand encompasses five movies (all of them written by DeMonaco, though he only directed the first two), half a billion at the box office, and two seasons of television. A sixth feature-length installment, which brings back the character of Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), is written and ready to roll.